August 2014

August - Being Better: Housekeeping 15 Minutes At A Time

Author: Kitty Bartell

I have heard housekeeping described as therapeutic and meditative. Ha! At best, I view it along a continuum somewhere between boring and a scourge on civilization. The spic-and-span camp can be found admiring scrubbies, spray bottles, and soaps, tubs and bins, and other sorting paraphernalia in the aisles of Target. Whole hours are dedicated to cleaning products on QVC … and they sell out every time! Infomercials run through the night, where motivational people shout their way into our bathrooms and kitchens, onto our floors and ceiling fans, selling us the latest and greatest to achieve sparkling sinks, shiny floors, dust-free surfaces, and cupboards so organized the engineers at NASA would want our secrets. Don’t get me wrong; I love sparkly, shiny surfaces, and labels on every box and bin. However, it takes some serious gumption on my part to put my mop in motion when I would rather be doing almost anything else. So, it is my being better mission this month to change course and pursue a cleaner more organized life; and August sets me up perfectly for the endeavor.

Back to school time is like a second New Year’s. That fresh start we are encouraged to make when the decadence of the holidays has ended and the calendar turns to January is the feeling I get somewhere in the middle of August. When our college-age daughter was still living at home and was embarking on a new school year, it always felt like a great time to slough off the sand and sun of summer, empty the garage of boogie boards and beach shoes, and get organized. My spare time would be used to get photos into albums, cook freezer meals in bulk to feed us in a more cost-efficient manner, and embark on handmade Christmas ornaments for all. My intentions were always admirable; my time management and initiative, not so much.

I recently heard a woman talking about her 90-something-year-old grandmother who has written a to-do list every morning of her adult life. She approaches her days in 15 minute increments, and doesn’t go to bed until each item on the list has been crossed off. Setting expectations has proven to be not only great for productivity, but also a mood lifter. I’m on board. But wait … the lollygagger in me is excited about the necessary shopping trip to select just the right to-do notebook. I wonder if I can keep the excursion to 15 minutes… unlikely.

It may be best to start slowly. Great ambition is for more long-term goals; with these it will be mere minutes before I can cross off items with an air of self-satisfied success. Given my work and family life, the short spurts of cleaning and organizing that will go on my list should probably be limited to four goals a day to start. I know I could knock out one even before leaving for work in the morning … fold a basket of laundry, assemble a crock pot dinner, reply to a few e-mails, pay some bills. I’m starting to think four may not be enough, but I can already feel my housekeeping self-esteem improving.

My to-do list, a ridiculous amount of Swiffer products, and gumption will be my friends and daily inspiration. I have some outstanding role models in my life who have housekeeping gumption in spades. My mother’s housekeeping gumption revealed itself quite often in the afternoons before we came home from school, or sometime well past midnight, after we were all tucked in for the night. Mom taught ice skating in the mornings and some evenings, leaving her large chunks of time to clean—much more than 15 minutes. It was kind of her “thing.” She didn’t teach me a lot about housekeeping or cleaning because it always seemed like her clandestine pleasure to do it alone, often with a surprise finish, like completely rearranged furniture. My dad learned to never enter their bedroom in the dark, because he never knew where the bed was going to be.

My mother-in-law has always kept an impeccable house. Rarely is a knick-knack out of place or contents of a cupboard misaligned. The first time I showered in a glass-door shower was at my in-law’s home, where my husband informed me that the squeegee hanging on the hook next to the bar of soap should be used after every shower. Until then, my squeegee experience was limited to the dirty, drippy rods at the gas station. After my first pass at shower squeegeeing, I knew why my in-law’s shower was more like the Ritz than the Red Roof. She has serious housekeeping gumption. I now have a squeegee in my glass door shower.

Of course, these roles models set me up for the psychological horrors of preparing our home for visitors. After we were married, I believe my husband thought I had quite literally lost my mind before and during the first few visits to our home by our parents and virtually every visit since. I think my 15-minute approach will help. I vow to add only four 15-minute goals to my notebook in preparation for visitors. If it can’t be done in that amount of time, then I will forgive myself and move on.

I don’t know that I will ever find the Zen in cleaning. I won’t be found ogling the sponges and scrubbies at Target, or choose spic-and-span over dinner and a movie. However, I do believe that taking it one quarter of an hour at a time has possibilities. Maybe a nook or cranny will be a bit cleaner; and I’m liking the idea of still making my lists well into my 90s: clean dentures, wash socks, walk to the mailbox, Face Time the grandchildren, dance in the garden, drink a martini. Being better is sounding kind of doable.

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